Credit: Gript

Dublin City Council: Safety in the city has nothing to do with us, guv

It was a bad weekend on the opinion polling front for those persistent voices in the media who insist that Dublin is a perfectly safe place, thank you very much, and that crank extreme voices like this one should shut up and stop talking the country down.

First, the public were asked by the Sunday Independent whether they had confidence in the performance of the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. We do not, answered 51% of them. 29% of people said they thought Helen was doing just fine, and 20% had no opinion.

Paradoxically, of course, 29% of people thinking you are doing a good job is not a bad result for an Irish politician – 29% of the votes at an election would see you top the poll in any constituency, due to the quirks of our electoral system. But what polls do not measure is the intensity of feeling or the why of why people feel the way they do: Chances are, if you don’t approve of McEntee, it’s because crime is a pretty important issue for you, and if you do approve of her, crime might not be that much of an important issue. In other words, if crime becomes an election issue, McEntee might not be well placed because the 29% who support her might vote against Fine Gael for other reasons.

The second poll came from the Business Group Dublin Town, which represents business interests in the city. Their findings were stark, especially relating to the problem area on the north bank of the liffey:

In 2016, 24 per cent of people felt safe at night time in north central Dublin and 50 per cent in south central Dublin; this was down to 15 per cent and 27 per cent respectively in May of this year.

I wrote previously on these pages, and repeat here, that it may not be a coincidence that only 15% of people feel safe at night in a place that has the country’s largest concentration by far of methadone clinics: If your policy is to attract the city’s heroin addicts to the centre of town, don’t be surprised when everyone else feels a little less safe.

Nevertheless, the poll figures were not quite as bad as the response from the City Council, when asked about the poll figures:

In response to questions about worsening perceptions of safety in Dublin and what could be done to address the situation, Dublin City Council said the issues raised were “not a matter” for the council.

One might have thought that the question of whether people felt safe in the City of Dublin was entirely a matter for Dublin City Council, and their response begs the question “if not them, then who?”. It also, I think, is entirely false. Dublin City Council is not responsible for policing, but it is, entirely, responsible for planning and development in the City. And, as I mention above, that means it bares considerable responsibility for allowing, to cite just that example, such a high concentration of drug treatment facilities in the centre of the Capital. It is also responsible, one might argue, for general cleanliness and tidiness and the provision of amenities in the city. In that respect, the general filth and grime in the City Centre which drives away footfall certainly contributes to an atmosphere which is more conducive to crime.

But more than questions of direct responsibility, the City Council’s position is deficient in a much more depressing way: Even if policing is not something the Council controls, then it certainly has a voice that it can and should use: This is the same City Council that passes endless resolutions about Palestine and Israel – and yet seems incapable of passing a resolution calling for specific action from Government or the Gardai to clean up its own city. There is, it seems, more interest in City Hall about the policing of Haifa or Jaffa than there is in the policing of O’Connell Street.

This is one reason why a directly elected Mayor of the Capital is so badly needed: At present, Dubliners have almost nobody to vote for or against if they wish to hold anyone responsible for the state of their own City. An elected Mayor with executive powers – including over policing, which should be devolved to the office – would make a big difference on that front.

At present, safety in Dublin appears to be the sole responsibility of a woman from Meath against whom no Dubliner can vote. City Councillors confine themselves to more mundane questions, like where to put traffic lights and whether the United Nations should intervene to bring peace to Ukraine.

There is every chance, of course, that Dubliners will elect some entirely useless Mayor who believes the answer is less policing and more hugging of the socially deprived. In fact, this outcome is very likely. And so, you might think, what’s the point, if we just end up with another useless politician on a big salary?

The point is that crime in the City becomes somebody’s direct problem, and that person can be sacked if it is not solved. And perhaps, if they fail, that person will be sacked and replaced with a Sideshow-Bob style cold hearted Republican who wants to cut taxes and brutalise criminals. Until that is at least a possibility, don’t expect the polling on how safe Dublin is to change.

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